ASTEROIDS will be targeted for their precious metals by a new firm that is backed by some of the world’s richest men.
Planetary Resources, based outside Seattle, yesterday said that it has received investment from technology entrepreneurs including Google’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, film director James Cameron and computing billionaire Ross Perot Jr.
“If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it’s the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land,” co-founder Peter Diamandis said.
A 30-metre long asteroid can hold as much as $25bn to $50bn (£15bn to £30bn) worth of platinum at today’s prices, Diamandis added.
Initially the firm will focus on developing and selling extremely low-cost robotic spacecraft for surveying missions but its long-term aim is to mine platinum-group metals and rare minerals.
Diamandis has a strong track record in space exploration having created the $10m Ansari X Prize competition, which spurred the development of low-cost manned spacecraft.
Planetary Resources’ first customers are likely to be science agencies, such as Nasa, as well as private research institutes.
Within five to 10 years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services.
In addition to mining for platinum and other precious metals, the company plans to tap asteroids’ water to supply orbiting fuel depots, which could be used by NASA and others for robotic and human space missions.
But investors are in for a long wait – it could be decades before the company’s plans to mine precious metals for use on earth becomes a reality.
“We have a long view. We’re not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time,” co-founder Eric Anderson said.